JCL Blog

Public Speaking: Authenticity

Authenticity contributes more than anything else to audience satisfaction.  You can be authentic and have a very satisfied audience and not get your message across, for that see my other posts on how to structure your presentation.  If you want your audience to be engaged, talk about how great you were, recommend you to others, and come back to hear you again, you have to be authentic.

By authentic I mean be yourself.  Put some of yourself into your presentation and do it in a way that adds to your message.  Here are four ideas for doing this:

  1. Talk about what you did:  The hypothetical example is really not very interesting and will cause people to tune out.  Make your illustrations actual experiences, talk about what you were thinking when you tried this or that, talk about how your perspective changed as you had the experience.  Talk about what you would do differently next time.  Don’t leave out the parts that make you look bad.
  2. Don’t have all of the answers:  Shine a light on the things you don’t know, the things you are still trying to solve, solicit input from the audience.
  3. Get others to tell their stories:  Bring someone else up on the stage with you or ask for examples from the audience.  This will break up your part of the presentation and disrupt the scriptedness of its appearance.
  4. Clearly state your intentions:  If it is not clear where you are coming from, make it clear so people don’t have to guess or spend their time trying to prove our their suspicions.  If you are selling something – say so.  If you are not selling something – say that. Make it clear and don’t try to slide something in.

Right now I am at an industry conference and have had the chance to listen to over a dozen speakers in the last 24 hours.  By far the best presentation was by Sandy Carter from IBM.  Clearly she does a great deal of speaking in her job and while promoting her books.  She had the audience right from the beginning because she was telling real world stories and explaining what she learned.  Clearly she is an expert, but she also freely admits that she is learning along the way.  She took questions and was humble when discussing issue that had no real answer or when she had not landed on one yet.

We should all work to be more like Sandy when we speak.